Rising Sexual Violence Against Women in India

OCT 5

Mains   > Society   >   Role of women   >   Women and Child issues

IN NEWS:

  • Amid outrage over the death of a rape victim in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras, the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) ‘Crime in India’ 2019 report showed that common crimes against women is witnessing a steep rise across the country.

‘CRIME IN INDIA’ REPORT, 2019:

  • According to the NCRB data, a total of 4,05,861 cases of crime against women were registered during 2019, showing an increase of 7.3% over 2018.
  • Every 16 minutes, a woman is raped somewhere in India, and every four minutes woman experiences cruelty at the hands of her in-laws.
  • In 2019, the country had recorded 88 rape cases every day. Of the total 32,033 reported rape cases in the year, 11% were from the Dalit community.
  • As per the data, maximum rape cases were reported from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. While Rajasthan reported 6,000 rape cases last year, UP had 3,065 cases.

                                  

  • What makes it more than a crime is the fact that 93% of all rapes in India are perpetrated by people known to the victim. But many more go unreported due to the fear and stigma surrounding sexual violence.

                                  

REASONS FOR RISING NUMBERS:

  • Social conditioning: The nurturing in a castist patriarchal society like India does not factor in the elements of sex education or gender sensitivity. Women, especially those of depressed castes, are usually considered second-class citizens. Therefore, it does not instill the necessary social conditioning to respect the free will or consent of women.
  • Public perception: Reporting assaults often risks inviting stigma on the victim rather than on the accused because the society questions the victim’s behavior than the perpetrator’s actions. Hence, many victims remain silent.
  • Underreporting: Besides fear of public perception, reporting of cases dents the chances of victim to lead a normal married life. This results in under reporting of cases and the chances of repeated offences.
  • Flawed investigations: Many women are reluctant to report crimes, fearing humiliation and degrading treatment by the police. Also, the criminal-politician-police nexus is prevalent in the country, resulting in a lack of certainty in prompt police response. These factors, coupled with poor investigation and evidence collection hampers prosecutions.
  • No uniform examination standard: One of the most contested evidence during rape investigation and trial is the medical examination report of the victim. However, India has no uniform format for compiling medical reports. This allows doctors to conduct examinations using no standards or rely on outdated stereotypes about rapes. This can result in reaching damaging conclusions, thereby undermining a victim's credibility.
  • Prevalence of extra judicial bodies: Despite being declared illegal by the Supreme Court, Khap panchayats continue to dominate the judicial proceedings in the country, especially in the rural areas. Often, they come in conflict with the law, in cases such as caste-based discriminations, honor killing and ordering rape of lower castes.
  • Delay in justice: With over 3.4 crore pending cases, ours is one of the slowest judicial systems in the world. As time passes, victims tend to reconcile with the situation. Also, the perpetrators of the crime get enough time to influence the victims.
  • Poor victim & witness protection measures:  Those who go ahead with the cases are humiliated by prosecutors through questions regarding their sexual life and their sexual morality. The inefficient witness protection mechanism either prevents the witness from helping the case or, as in many cases, makes them turn hostile. The recent murder of rape victim at Unnao, Uttar Pradesh is an example of this weakness
  • Deficit of basic infrastructures: The lack of sufficient toilet facilities, limited transport facilities and long distances to workplace & schools increase the vulnerability to sexual assaults, especially against minors.

EXISTING MEASURES FOR PROTECTION OF WOMEN:

Constitutional:

  • Article 14: Equality before law for women.
  • Article 15 (3): The State shall make any special provision in favour of women and children.
  • Article 39 A: To promote justice, on a basis of equal opportunity and to provide free legal aid by suitable legislation or scheme or in any other way to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
  • Article 42: The State to make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.
  • Article 51(A)(e): To promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

Legislative:

  • Provisions in Indian Penal Code:
    • Section 354: Criminalises any act by a person that assaults or uses criminal force against a woman’s modesty. The Supreme Court referred to 'modesty' as feminine decency and a virtue that women possess owing to their sex.
    • Section 375: Deals with matters related to rape and aggravated rape. The punishment for committing such aggravated rape is rigorous imprisonment of between 10 years and life along with fine.
    • Section 376D: Deals with gang rapes. The punishment is rigorous imprisonment up to 20 years and life imprisonment.
    • Section 376E: Deals with repeated offenders. It allows death sentence to be imposed where a person is convicted for a second time for rape.
    • Section 509: Punishment for using a word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman.
    • Section 166B: denying medical treatment to rape survivors is punishable under with imprisonment for up to a year.
  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018:
    • The Ordinance amends the IPC, 1860 to increase the minimum punishment for rape of women from seven years to ten years.
    • Rape and gang rape of girls below the age of 12 years will carry minimum imprisonment of twenty years and is extendable to life imprisonment or death.
    • Rape of girls below the age of 16 years is punishable with imprisonment of twenty years or life imprisonment.
  • Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012:
    • It was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children
    • Defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age. It is gender neutral.
    • Covers different forms of sexual abuse including but not limited to sexual harassment, pornography, penetrative & non-penetrative assault.
    • Sexual assault is deemed to be “aggravated” under certain circumstances such as, when the child is mentally ill. The offence is also considered aggravated when the abuse is committed by the person in a position of trust such as doctor, teacher, policeman, family member.
    • Assigns a policeman in the role of child protector during the investigation process.
    • Adequate provisions are made to avoid re-victimization of the Child at the hands of judicial system.
    • Provides for establishment of Special Courts for trial of such offences
    • An online complaint management system, POCSO e-box was launched by the Union Ministry of Women and Child development in order to facilitate easy and direct reporting of sexual offences against children and timely disposal of the cases under POCSO Act 2012.

Vishaka Guidelines:

            They were a set of procedural guidelines in cases of sexual harassment issued by the Supreme Court in Vishaka and others v State of Rajasthan case (1997). The Guidelines issued by the court said that it shall be the duty of the employer to prevent or deter the acts of sexual harassment. It provided for inclusion of rules and regulations regarding prevention of sexual assaults to the existing rules and regulations. It also provided with Complaints mechanism.

            The guidelines were superseded by the The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013

  • The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
    • Aims to provide every woman, irrespective of her age or employment status, a safe and secure working environment free from all forms of harassment.
    • Covers both the organized and unorganized sectors in India.
    • Defines ‘sexual harassment’ in line with the Supreme Court’s definition in the Vishaka Judgment.
    • Introduced the concept of ‘extended workplace’ since sexual harassment is not always confined to the primary place of employment. The Act defines ‘workplace’ to include any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for the purpose of commuting to and from the place of employment.
    • Provides for the establishment of committees, to provide a forum for filing complaints to facilitate fast redressal of the grievances pertaining to sexual harassment:
      • Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at every office or branches of the organization employing 10 or more employees.
      • Local Complaints Committee (LCC) at the district level by the Government to investigate and redress complaints of sexual harassment of the unorganized sector or from those establishments where the ICC has not been constituted for having less than 10 employees.
  • Nirbhaya Fund:
    • Post-2012 Nirbhaya case, a dedicated non lapsable fund was set up in 2013 with the focus on implementing the initiatives aimed at improving the security and safety of women in India.
    • Administered by Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) of the Ministry of Finance (MoF)
    • Ministry of Women and Child Development is the nodal ministry involved in appraising, reviewing, and monitoring the progress of schemes sanctioned under the Nirbhaya Fund.

Policy:

  • Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao
    • BBBP addresses the declining Child Sex Ratio (CSR) and related issues of women empowerment over a life-cycle continuum.
    • It is a tri-ministerial effort of Ministries of Women and Child Development, Health & Family Welfare and Human Resource Development.
  • SABLA & SAKSHAM:
    • The Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Boys aims holistic development of Adolescent Boys.
    • Aims to enable the adolescents for self-development and empowerment, improve their nutrition and health status, Promote awareness about health, hygiene, nutrition, adolescent reproductive and sexual health (ARSH) and make them ready for life‘s challenges.
  • UJJAWALA Scheme
    • Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of Trafficking and Rescue, Rehabilitation and Re-Integration of Victims of Trafficking for Commercial Sexual Exploitation.
    • The Objectives of the Schemes include:
      • Prevent trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation, through social mobilization and involvement of local communities, awareness generation programmes, etc.
      • Facilitate rescue of victims and place them in safe custody.
      • Provide rehabilitation services and facilitate reintegration of the victims into the family and society at large.
      • To facilitate repatriation of cross-border victims to their country of origin.
  • Swadhar:
    • A Central sector scheme for integrated services to women in difficult circumstances like destitute widows, women prisoners released from jail and without family support, women survivors of natural disasters, trafficked women/girls, mentally challenged women etc.
    • The package of services include provision for food, clothing, shelter, health care, counselling and legal support, social and economic rehabilitation through education, awareness generation, skill upgradation.
  • Swadhar Greh Scheme:
    • The scheme focuses on establishing one SwadharGreh in each district, which provides shelter, food, clothing and health as well as economic and social security for women victims.

ISSUES WITH PRESENT SYSTEMS:

  • Questionable efficacy of capital punishment: Recently amendments were made to certain rape related laws, such as in the POCSO Act, raising the maximum punishment to death penalty. But this move may not yield the intended result.
    • There is no evidence to suggest that the threat of execution works as a special deterrent. Also, it leads the issues like pressure on women not to report or killing the victim to eliminate any kind of evidence.
    • Death penalty does not address the flaws in the police and administrative system. Instead it provides an easy way for the authorities to bypass the need to address the flaws.
    • Also, death penalty reinforces patriarchal thinking. The logic of awarding death penalty to rapists is based on the belief that rape is a fate worse than death. Patriarchal notions of ‘honour’ lead us to believe that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman.
  • Under reporting & delayed reporting:
    • Under-reporting is a problem because the perpetrators are mostly known to the victims. On several occasions, cases are reported after a long time (E.g.: during the “#me_too” movement). This undermines the use of various politico-legal measures established to prevent rapes in the country.
  • Challenges in evidence gathering:
    • In 2014, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines for medico-legal care for survivors of sexual violence to standardize healthcare professionals’ examination and treatment of sexual assault survivors. However, several states are yet to adopt the guidelines.
    • Also, convictions in rape cases hinge on DNA evidence from forensic scientific labs. There are only six of these labs in all of India, and only three are equipped for DNA testing. Thousands of cases are still pending at these labs across the country.
  • Marital rape:
    • India unlike other developed nations has yet to criminalize marital rape. Orthodox view remains that marital rape cannot be criminalized because of the sacred nature of marriage and how criminalizing marital rape would destabilize the institution of marriage.
  • Gender bias:
    • Except for POCSO Act, there are no provisions in the laws for gender neutrality. The laws do not address sexual assaults against men.
    • The society continues to put the onus of safety on women itself. For instance, following the Hyderabad rape, the state’s CM called for an 8 pm curfew for women in Telangana’s transport department and sought an end to women working night shifts in order to prevent women from getting raped and burnt. Similarly, the police department issued 14 safety tips to be followed by women while outside.
  • Delayed justice:
    • Some new amendments have proposed fast-tracking of rape cases. But India does not have the infrastructure to make this an easy fix. Delays continue to plague the judicial system, forcing the victim to suffer from trauma for prolonged periods and help the perpetrator to influence the victim.
  • Extra judicial actions:
    • Low conviction rate and flaws in the country's judicial system are giving way to vigilante justice. The Telengana encounter killing and calls for public lynching of rapists are an indication of this rising tendency. This compromises the right to life and right to fair trial guaranteed under our Constitution and undermines the role of state in ensuring law and order.
  • Implementation issues:
    • Several legislative measures have been created but measures to enforce or review them have been slow. For instance, while the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 mandates the creation of Internal Complaints Committees (ICC), monitoring the establishment of such ICCs is not in the scheme of measures. The underutilization of Nirbhaya fund is another instance.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Legal reforms: Gender neutral laws are required to address all the facets of sexual assaults. Also, the laws should specify deadlines for their timely implementation. We have strict laws. What we need now is the surety of punishment.
  • Efficient investigation and prosecution: Neither the training of the police nor the investigative measures have changed much since the British era. The Indian police force has to be better trained to deal with survivors of sexual violence, and there is a need to develop support systems for survivors.
  • Uniform code: A uniform pan-India protocol, backed by adequate training and monitoring, will help police and doctors follow basic parameters of treatment and care and gather evidence more effectively and impartially.
  • Faster delivery of justice: The government should look at establishment of courts specializing in crimes against women to expedite justice in rape cases. Also, adequate infrastructure and man power must be made available to the courts to reduce the huge pendency in cases.
  • Gender sensitization: Long term strategies are essential to bring about large-scale gender sensitization. Sensitisation should be made a part of the school curriculum from primary school onwards. There should also be a robust conversation around men, be it within their families, public for a or workplaces.
  • Empower the community: There should be strong community driven measures to address the problem of culture of misogyny, aggressiveness and normalised sexual abuse towards women. Women must be encouraged to be strong, vocal and intolerant of transgressions, however small they be.
  • Gender sensitive infrastructure: Public spaces and workplaces should be made safer for women. For the same, government should boost its efforts such as women police stations, pink police, better surveillance systems and periodic review of workplaces to ensure implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. Despite constitutional safeguards and special legislations to protect women, cases of sexual violence have been on the rise in India. In this regard, Critically examine the demand of capital punishment for rape cases in India?